There is something about musicians and food. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer loved milagu kuzhambu, paruppu togaiyal and keerai masiyal. Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar asked for his favourite chow chow koottu made with just coconut and green chillies with a dash of jeera, wherever he was hosted. S. Balachander enjoyed home-made paruppu podi as much as he indulged in short-bread specially brought from London by a die-hard fan. The Rayar’s Mess on Kutchery Road in Mylapore, known for its spongy idli-s and ghee, was a preferred haunt for many a yesteryear musician as was the Coimbatore Krishna Iyer’s hotel in Triplicane for its melt-in-the-mouth badam halwa. Vidwans those days were pretty vocal about their food cravings and rasikas in turn pampered them with home cooked delicacies and small town specialties. When artistes travelled by train, which was often, it was customary for rasika-s and sabha members to meet them at stations and pamper them with their favourite food in huge tiffin carriers, ensuring they never had to starve during the long journey. And it was the same story before and after concerts. It was a matter of pride for star struck rasika-s to feed musicians who in turn basked in all the gastronomic attention coming their way.
Talk to any musician for half an hour and the conversation is sure to veer towards food. “I have no diet restrictions whatsoever! Isn't that quite evident?” laughs Ghatam S. Karthick as he goes into raptures about traditional, homecooked food. Poricha koottu, paruppu urundai kuzhambu and milagu rasam are his all-time favourites. A huge fan of authentic Andhra food, he has something hot and spicy just before a concert, which, he believes adds to the fieriness of his performance!
Mridangam artiste Prapancham Raveendran is unstoppable when it comes to food. He reels off recipes effusively, giving the perfect quantity of ingredients for every dish with the same passion that he would infuse into a tani avartanam. He loves vendaya dosai and coconut chutney before a concert and can even cook traditional delicacies like morkali, kamala orange peel chutney and wood apple rasam!
An excellent cook who loves feeding people, flautist Mala Chandrashekar is known for her vetta kuzhambu, vazhaipoo paruppusili and different types of rasam among fellow musicians. “My podis are all home-made with hand-picked ingredients. I would never compromise on that,” discloses Mala, whose cooking is an extension of her music, steeped in classicism. “I imbibed a lot from my aunt Kunjumani amma whose sambar was legendary,” she says in a voice tinged with immense pride in her formidable lineage, as she brings on the elaborate traditional dishes that have almost faded into oblivion now.
Like music, cooking is an enjoyable art when it is simple. Would you have guessed that S. Sowmya is a great cook with a penchant for making Thai, Burmese and Italian, apart from Indian food? She dislikes sweets in general but loves ice-cream and surprisingly does not have any restriction on that count. “I can have anything bitter. The ‘bitterer’, the better!” says Sowmya, explaining her fondness for dark chocolate. Another vocalist who loves ice cream is Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam who also makes good pasta, salads, soups and loves baking for her family. She avoids sweets as they are harsh on her throat. And no heavy meal before a concert please — helps to keep a light stomach, for an easy and smooth flow of the voice.
Veena artiste B. Kannan is not at all hard to please. Give him a plate of idli-s three times a day and he is a happy man. Idli-s earn brownie points for being the safest dish in any part of the world and Kannan has written poems in praise of the simple idly when he was a school kid. “To me Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva are idli-milaga podi and gingelly oil,” jokes Kannan, who swears by his favourite combo meals — rasam, shutta appalam and nartangai, curd rice, mango tokku, puliyodarai and potato curry.
It’s all about getting the right combination and the perfect accompaniment. And who would know this better than our musicians?
(Dharma Raman is a dancer and a freelance writer.)